Free to Pee, You and Me

I’m visiting your city, seeing your sights, eating in your restaurants and staying in your city’s accommodations (frequently paying a visitor tax). The least you can do is provide me a few free places to piss.

I’m talking to you, Venice, with a visitor tax and seemingly one pay toilet in the entire old part of the city, despite posting 500 signs for it. You can’t provide free toilets on the Venetian island of Murano, yet you can pay someone to collect toilet tolls? I’m talking to you Berlin, which had public facilities where you wanted to charge me 1 euro.

I’m talking to any bus or train station with pay toilets. I’ve paid for my ticket, which helps finance your operations, so give me someplace to go (literally). In Prague, you had to pay to pee even in places you had to pay to enter. We paid the equivalent of 20 euro to climb the Petrin Tower yet had to pay another 10 crowns (about 40 cents) for the pleasure of pissing there.

Toilet.jpgThere also are places that deserve praise for their potty policies. Lyme Regis has free public toilets about every 100 metres along the waterfront. Marilynn said there were no toilet seats in the bathroom, but, hey, it was free. Failing public facilities, many cities have McDonald’s, what I call America’s Pit Stop. But, in Prague, you had to pay 10 crowns there, too.

What is it with the French and public peeing?

It’s no wonder that cities like Paris have a problem with what they delicately call les pipis sauvages, or wild peeing. We didn’t experience this (fortunately), but there apparently are places in the City of Light that stink to high heaven, especially in summer. They’ve installed 400 free, self-contained WCs in Paris that are free, but we also saw a pay one in Prague.

The latest French advance against a tide of urine is the uritrottoir, basically a colorful box over sawdust, straw or woodchips on a public street for people to place “deposits.” When full, the device signals that it needs to be collected, and the bedding is later used as compost in city gardens.

In the 19th century, the French came up with the concept of the pissoir, which you can figure out from the name. We saw several of these between the Olympic stadium subway stop in Berlin and the stadium, basically covered places to take a leak. But since we saw just as many people pissing in the woods along the same route, I’m not sure they are working.

Up-close encounter with les pipis sauvages

I knew this would be a blog topic in the early days of the trip, and I’d written a rough draft on the train from Prague back to Berlin, from where we’d fly back to Belfast. After eating at a great new sushi restaurant and visiting the DDR Museum, which documented life in East Germany under Communist rule, we were walking back to the Alexanderplatz train station along the main avenue at about 9 p.m. Alexanderplatz has wide sidewalks, at least four driving lanes and room for a tram. This ain’t no alley.

And then we saw it—a German punter taking a leak on a small bush along the sidewalk, beer in one hand and I’m not sure what (but have a really good idea) in the other. Fortunately, he had his back to us, but his front was on view to anyone driving by or on the tram. Judging by the fire-hose strength of the stream, this guy really needed to pee.

I can’t remember ever peeing in the street, but I understand the overwhelming urge to go. We will go to great lengths to avoid pay-as-you-go policies. I’d rather stop in a restaurant, order a meal or a drink and partake of their facilities rather than outright pay to pee someplace else. I’ll cross my legs and think dry thoughts for an hour, rather than flip a train station attendant 50 cents to partake of the plumbing.

This must stop. I call for a Urination Declaration, demanding free public toilets for tourists. Because peeing (and pooping, for that matter) are fundamental human rights. We all gotta go sometime, and it oughta be free. Our motto is, “Free to Pee, You and Me.”

A Grand Day Out to Newtownards

We were told at semester start that Declan didn’t need a PE kit at Lagan, given he was just there for the semester. But he came home last Monday and announced that he was being picked to play in Thursday’s football match and did need a kit—immediately.

Declan in his Lagan College football kit.
Declan in his football kit.

Unlike the school uniform, which could be purchased in at least three places in Belfast, there was only one outlet for the PE kit, 12 miles east of Belfast in Newtownards (pronounced Newton-ards). A quick search of bus routes showed that it would take 75 minutes and two busses to get to Newtownards, then the same amount of time and busses to get back.

So I asked a family friend, Eileen, if she would kindly drive me. Eileen had been instrumental in hooking Declan up with a local academy football team, even driving him to the first practice, so she was happy to help.

Detour to Ikea

We set a plan for Wednesday, but on Tuesday night, the third of six Ikea bowls we purchased in early January failed, so I asked if we could go to Ikea, too. Eileen invited another family friend, Joanna, so we set off on Wednesday morning, first to Ikea. The Ikea customer service rep was happy to replace the bowls while Eileen and Joanna shopped the scratch-and-dent furniture and purchased a few items.

The route to Newtownards took us past the Stormont Estate, where the Northern Ireland Assembly meets, so we took a quick detour to see Stormont and Stormont Castle.

Upon arrival in Newtownards, we quickly bought the kit and had a quick meal at Haptik, a local coffee shop. I had one of the weirdest-sounding but greatest-tasting brunch dishes—waffles and maple syrup topped by a fried egg, with bacon pieces sprinkled around the plate. It also had sesame seeds sprinkled on top. I did everything but lick the plate afterward.

Garden center? No shit.

Eileen warned me in advance there would be a garden shop involved, but fortunately not the manure she had previously mentioned. Walkers Seeds & Paints is also in the city centre, but we drove there because Eileen sensed there was a big shopping trip ahead. She wasn’t kidding.

What a great, old-fashioned store, full of things a gardener needs as well as many things a gardener didn’t know he needed until seeing them. Oh yeah, and paint, too. I saw nearly two dozen varieties of seed potatoes and hadn’t realized before there were so many. I knew the Irish liked their potatoes, but two dozen kinds?

Half a day after we started, we arrived back in Belfast, lighter of wallet but fuller in friendship. And that’s the best part of a grand day out.

P.S. Declan did play in the match, and his team won.